The Province is extending a temporary ministerial order until Dec. 31, 2020, to continue to allow health-care workers and other public sector staff to use communication tools not normally permitted for use during the COVID-19 state of emergency.
On March 26, 2020, Anne Kang, Minister of Citizens’ Services, approved a ministerial order under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA) to temporarily permit the use of vital software and technologies in the public sector that have proven useful in B.C.’s successful efforts to flatten the curve. The order allows:
- patient-care teams to use multiple communication tools, including things like smartphones, text messaging, chat programs and other applications during their response to the public-health emergency. This has made it easier to communicate between teams and follow up with patients using virtual platforms;
- people in self-isolation to communicate with public health officials using chat apps they are most comfortable with, rather than having to learn how to use something new; and
- K-12 schools and post-secondary institutions to provide online and digital learning platforms, so students can continue their studies while gatherings of 50 people or more are prohibited.
British Columbia has the strictest privacy and data-residency laws in Canada. It is one of two provinces with legislation requiring the personal information of its citizens to be stored in, and only accessed from, Canada.
These leading privacy protections also mean these common communication and collaboration software tools, which are routinely allowed in other provinces and are useful in the fight against COVID-19, are not normally permitted for use by B.C. public-sector staff.
Renewing the ministerial order means health-care bodies like the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions and health authorities can continue to use software and technology that has proven useful in their life-saving efforts to protect British Columbians from the spread of COVID-19.
The temporary measure also enables schools and post-secondary institutions to provide increased online learning opportunities for students who may be displaced or unable to attend in-person classes.
The protection of privacy is a priority for the B.C. government. The Province will continue to work with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner to either rescind or renew the order, depending on the pandemic landscape in December 2020.
- FOIPPA makes public bodies more accountable to the public and protects personal privacy by:
- giving the public a right of access to records;
- giving individuals a right of access to, and a right to request correction of, personal information about themselves;
- specifying limited exceptions to the rights of access;
- preventing the unauthorized collection, use or disclosure of personal information by public bodies; and
- providing for an independent review of decisions made under this act.
- This act does not replace other procedures for access to information or in any way limit access to information that is not personal information and is available to the public.
Ministerial order: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/british-columbians-our-governments/services-policies-for-government/information-management-technology/information-privacy/resources/ministerial_order_085_respecting_disclosures_during_covid-19_emergency__march_2020_pdf.pdf
Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act in B.C.: http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/96165_00
For non-medical information relating to COVID-19:
Call: 1 888 COVID-19 (1 888 268-4319). Service is available 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Pacific time).